Questions about religion can often be uncomfortable, as religious beliefs are personal and often strongly held. Librarians should not feel uneasy when dealing with questions on this subject.

Because the area of religion is subject to much that is interpretive it can be difficult to feel that the patron's need is being adequately addressed without venturing into interpretation. However, as in other areas, it is important to try to determine the real information need, present factual or authoritative sources, and refrain from being drawn into offering your own opinions or beliefs.

While there is no established way of categorizing what the public wants to know concerning religious matters, in general patrons ask for information or want to know about:

  1. Doctrines or main tenets of Christian groups, other world religions, and religious cults

  2. Number of adherents of U.S. Christian denominations and other religious movements

  3. Religious affiliation of public figures

  4. Source or origin of quotations with religious content

  5. Religious figures, particularly the saints

  6. Biblical history, geography (sometimes using the descriptive phrase "Holy Land"), Biblical characters and Biblical translations

  7. Religious minutiae

Although there is not a single, best source for information on religion, one that is very good about the beliefs and practices of North American religious bodies is the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN RELIGIONS. It provides information on even small, relatively obscure groups. Through the indexes personal names, educational institutions, and publications can be linked to religious organizations.

It is a good idea to have on hand a local list of clergy and church related organizations. Yearbooks of the denominations predominant in the area can very useful as well.

A library should also have a representative sample of modern Bible translations and concordances based on those translations. Try using a concordance, in addition to standard quotation sources, when searching for the source of a quote with religious meaning.

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This page was updated December 8, 2003.